Critics Consensus: The Expendables 2 Is (Mostly) Big, Dumb Fun

Plus, ParaNorman is Certified Fresh, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is sweet but weird, and Sparkle is predictable but strong.

This week at the movies, we've got macho mercenaries (The Expendables 2, starring Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham); a zombified community (ParaNorman, with voice work by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Casey Affleck); an arboreal child (The Odd Life of Timothy Green, starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton); and a troubled songstress (Sparkle, starring Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston). What do the critics have to say?

The Expendables 2

65%

You pretty much know what you're getting with The Expendables 2: a group of past-and-present action stars wisecracking and blowing stuff up real good. The surprise, say critics, is that this sequel tops its predecessor in just about every way; sure, it's dumb, loud, and a little too self-conscious, but it's got enough muscular action and funny one-liners to delight the popcorn crowd. Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) has a seemingly straightforward task for the Expendables, whose ranks include Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and, this time out, Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But when the plan goes awry, our heroes seek revenge against a certain Belgian baddie. The pundits say The Expendables 2 isn't the most disciplined movie on the planet, but it's undeniably fun to see these aging warriors dish out punishment. (Check out this week's Total Recall, in which we count down Schwarzenegger's best-reviewed movies.)

ParaNorman

87%

With Coraline, the stop-motion animation wizards at LAIKA pulled off a tricky mix of the whimsical and the macabre. Critics say they've got another winner with ParaNorman, the witty, poignant, visually stunning tale of a small town suffering from a zombie infestation. Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young misfit with the ability to communicate with the spirits, which comes in handy when zombies and other assorted ghouls threaten his community; soon, however, Norman finds that his powers are severely tested. The pundits say the Certified Fresh ParaNorman doesn't have the strongest narrative, but it's teeming with invention, reveling in visual set-pieces that are by turns strange, funny, scary, and touching. (Check out the Five Favorite Films of directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell.)

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

33%

At first glance, The Odd Life of Timothy Green looks to be the kind of movie they rarely make these days -- an old-school, feel-good live-action family fantasy. Unfortunately, critics say that while the film is sweet and well-meaning, it squanders its terrific cast on a sappy, thin plot. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton star as a couple that desperately want a child, and their prayers are seemingly answered when a strange boy knocks on their door one stormy night. But where did this strange lad come from? And why does he have leaves sprouting from his legs? The pundits say The Odd Life of Timothy Green never finds a consistent tone, and the result, while gentle and pleasant, is also overly sentimental and sometimes inexplicably weird.

Sparkle

57%

As a descriptor, "melodramatic" is often used in the pejorative sense nowadays, but there's something to be said for predictable entertainment infused with conviction. Take Sparkle: critics say this rags-to-riches musical drama has an ancient plot and some slack storytelling, but it's also got a solid cast, great music, and plenty of energy. Jordin Sparks stars as Sparkle, who sings with her sisters in a Motown-style girl group. Can she avoid the pitfalls that ensnared her disillusioned mother (Whitney Houston), who missed her chance to hit it big? The pundits say Sparkle is pretty formulaic stuff, but the tunes are superb, and the performances -- particularly Houston in her final role -- are delivered with passion and sincerity.

Also opening this week in limited release:

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